"We've played shows where we sounded like a house falling over, a sinkhole opening up, or a bunch of tiny things dying." That is how guitarist/singer/ringleader Jim McHugh describes the frayed music of the 17-piece freak-rock ensemble that is Dark Meat. Please excuse his wild descriptions, because the man just might be right. During the wonderful sprawling psychedelic hiss of Universal Indians, it feels as if buildings crumble, the earth might just open up, and the cold touch of death is imminent.
Universal Indians is a dark locale where free-jazz skronk freakouts are at home alongside horn-heavy rock jams, and songs are titled "Angel of Meth," or the graphic "There Is a Retard on Acid Holding a Hammer to Your Brain," the latter of which is almost as long in title (12 words) as it is in lyrics (14 words). Credit this to the loose nature of the band's formation.
"We started off as a four-piece Neil Young cover band, " says McHugh. "Our other bands had fallen apart, or we had been kicked out of them, and we decided that to make money in Athens [Georgia, their hometown] we had to play Neil Young covers in frat bars." He adds, "Our plan was to learn stuff off of Harvest, play 'Rockin' in the Free World,' and then play the gnarliest, most fucked-up Neil Young songs that we loved. Part racket, part art project."
McHugh continues, "But there are so many musicians in Athens that are open to anything, and once they got wind of us, they just showed up and started playing. And we never turned them down." The band swelled to a massive 17-member gang of misfits, one that rolls through towns kicking up dust in a gaudy bright green 35-foot bus.
Operating as a super-sized knee-jerk reaction to the sterilization and creativity-smothering nature of most rock acts, the music of Dark Meat (which is lovingly described by McHugh as "gnarly redneck Kraut-rock shit"), comes together just as free form as you'd expect it to.
Says McHugh, "We never talk about it. It just happens because of the energy that we create just by hanging with each other." There might be some other elements at play as well. "Getting loaded helps, too," he admits.
During the finest moments—and there are many—of Universal Indians, Dark Meat has all the raw power of Iggy, they're crazier than Crazy Horse, and they can kick out the jams like a bunch of MC5-worshipping motherfuckers. Rock 'n' roll is a powerful weapon if used properly, and Dark Meat abuse that responsibility as they flail about, hell-bent on bludgeoning their peers, their influences, and their legacy with a sound that could best described in one word: feral.
The band, with ties to the Orange Twin Conservation Community (an honest-to-God ecovillage/commune on 100 acres of Georgia woodland), is untamed and wild, a ferocious army of musicians that are eager to combine the loose nature of an Albert Ayler (the record is dedicated to Ayler's "Holy Ghost") avant-jazz breakdown alongside some long-lost fictional White Panther Party rock anthems. They live in trees, paint their skin, fuck on the floor—Dark Meat is rock music at its most primal.